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Mites, not pesticides, killing the bees?

Digital Journal has reported on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides and the weight of scientific opinion that these classes of pesticides are killing honey bees in both Europe and North America. Neonicotinoids (often abbreviated to “neonics”) are neuroactive insecticides. They are used as pesticides to protect specific crops.

It is also established that bees are in decline due to other factors, such as environmental change and from parasitic mites. What is often hotly disputed is the contribution that each of these factors makes.

Bees are of vital importance to agriculture and the economy of leading nations. This is through the pollination of crops. In addition, the production of honey adds.

According to apiculturist (that’s bee specialist) bee expert Jeff Harris, the issue that should be focused on is infection of hives by the Varroa mite.

In a new report, he states: “What is lost by an oversimplified view of colony health is that honey bees suffer from myriad parasites, diseases and other stressors that are more commonly associated with the death of the colony.”

Varroa mites were first identified in Kentucky in 1991. Since then mite infestations of hives have been tracked throughout the U.S., Canada and in parts of Europe. The mites are associated with ‘colony collapse disorder’, where bee larvae are killed by the parasitic mites and the colony collapses. Adult bees are also affected.

The primary mite is Varroa destructor. The mite targets adult bees by attaching to the body weakening the bee by sucking hemolymph (a bee’s blood.)

Jeff Harris notes that the mites reproduce rapidly and the spread of the mites through the U.S, shows little sign of slowing down. Measure to tackle the mites through chemical and physical means have proved ineffective. One possible way, Harris notes, is through selective breeding of honey bees that are more robustly resistant to the mites. This area is currently under investigation.

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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